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The Battle of River Road Continues

River Road Golf Club

London's River Road -- and yes it looks pretty, but it isn't much fun to play.

The fight over London, Ont.’s muni, River Road Golf Course, ( I detailed the initial talk of closing the course in an earlier blog) is just heating up it seems, with one city councilor suggesting thousands might show up to protest its closure. I think the remarks show why politicians should stay out of the game of golf (source):

A veteran city councillor is warning his colleagues the public may tee off at a public meeting next month on the proposed closing of one of London’s three taxpayer-owned golf courses, River Road.

“Get ready, because this place is going to be rocking,” said Coun. Joe Swan, who served on council for 15 years until 2003 and was re-elected last year.

“There’ll be about 500 people (at city hall). And it’ll spread like wildfire through your wards, so get ready.”

So let me get this straight — there were only 22,000 rounds last year at River Road, a year when it was dry and warm, and play declined. Despite that 500 people are going to show up at city hall to protest its closure? Really? Is this guy delusional? He clearly doesn’t understand the golf business.

But the odd remarks continue, and expect more as the public input session happens on March 8. This one is from another councilor, Bill Armstrong:

Armstrong, the Ward 2 councillor, sounded a note of caution against shutting River Road — which has lost $600,000 since 2007 and is the weak link of London’s publicly-owned golf holdings.

The city has put about $2 million into the course over the years, staff said in response to his questions.

“We’re going to throw away a multimillion-dollar asset and let it go back to nature,” Armstrong said. “As the economy gets better, as we create those 10,000 jobs, there will be golfers out there.”

Maybe — but recent years indicates the market is flat, with few new golfers coming online. Additionally, River Road is located well in the city’s outskirts, making it difficult for youngsters to get to the course, so it isn’t like fewer young people are going to be playing if the course is shut. Truth be told, all of Armstrong’s 10,000 new jobs would also have to be workers who golf for it to make an impact on River Road.

I’m quoted in an article by Free Press columnist Ian Gillespie, but I think it is the comment by John Herbert, another golf writer, that is most telling:

As freelanceer John Herbert, who writes about golf for The Free Press, quips, “If you close River road about 5,000 ground hogs will miss it, but I don’t know about golfers.”

Government should rarely be involved in golf — and yes, I’m not a fan of big government to start with. If River Road wasn’t so badly designed, maybe more people would have played it. As it is perhaps some entrepreneur can make a go of it if the facility was contracted out — but I wouldn’t be putting my money down.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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